S.C. voters back increasing cigarette tax to national average — more than ever

The South Carolina Tobacco Collaborative released its new poll today showing support for increasing the state's lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax to the national average is higher than ever:

Majority of



Favor Increase in
Cigarette Tax


New Poll
Shows Overwhelming Support for Cigarette Tax

To Reduce
Youth Smoking and Address the State’s Healthcare


(January 14, 2009)
– Nearly
three-quarters of South Carolinians (74 percent) favor a proposal to raise the
state cigarette tax by 93 cents per pack to help fund programs to reduce tobacco
use among kids as well as programs to increase access to health care for South
Carolinians, according to a new poll released today. A majority of voters (60
percent strongly favor the 93-cent


The poll found that there is no
difference in support between a 93-cent and 50-cent increase. Support for both
specific cigarette tax increases is broad-based, and cuts across party, regional
and ideological lines.


, Vice President for


at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids noted,
“From a political standpoint, it’s clearly
‘in for a penny; in for a pound.’ This is because opposition to the cigarette
tax is low and essentially identical at the two levels, while the revenue and
other benefits dramatically increase with the higher


The survey
of 500 registered


voters, who are likely to vote, was released
today by the South Carolina Tobacco Collaborative in conjunction with the
Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and the American Cancer Society. In
announcing its results, the
campaign declared the cigarette tax a win-win-win for

South Carolina

. An
increase in the state’s cigarette tax is a win for public health because it will
reduce smoking, particularly among kids; it’s a win for the state’s fiscal
health because it will raise more than $175 million in new annual revenue for
the state; and it’s a win for lawmakers who support it because of overwhelming
voter support.


Strong voter
support is evident among virtually every political and demographic subgroup of
voters in the



, as large majorities of Democrats
and Republicans, men and women, young and old, and residents of all parts of the
state support the tax. “The cigarette tax is clearly not a partisan issue,” said
McGoldrick. “The proposal has tremendous support across party lines and across
the state.”


costs add more than $960 million per year to tax bills in the state – or more
than $560 for each


household. “By increasing the cigarette tax,

South Carolina

will reduce smoking, save lives and help offset the health care costs caused by
smoking,” said Dr. Anthony Alberg of the Medical University of South


smoking is an epidemic, and increasing the cigarette tax is a proven strategy to
protect thousands of


kids from tobacco addiction,” said Alberg.


has the nation’s lowest cigarette tax rate at
just 7 cents per pack and the lowest funding for prevention programs. We have
failed to take this important step to fight the epidemic. Among the options that
are on the table, increasing the cigarette tax is clearly a preferred solution
to making sure the state can balance the budget while funding important



In this
difficult economic environment, there is no support for any type of tax increase


, with one exception – an increase in the state
cigarette tax. All other spending reductions or tax increases tested fall


Support for
a 93-cent increase in the state cigarette tax crosses party and ethnic lines,
with 73 percent of base GOPers, 86 percent of white Democrats, and 72 percent of
African Americans backing an increase in the state cigarette tax. Regionally,
support for a 93-cent cigarette tax increase is also strong across the state.
Support is stronger in the Lowcountry (80 percent favor) and Midlands (78
percent favor), but is also high in the Upstate (71 percent favor) and

Pee Dee

regions (67 percent favor). The
“weakest” subgroups – African American women and


voters, still back a cigarette tax increase by more than a 60
percent level.


In terms of
the specific cigarette tax increases tested by Public Opinion Strategies,
intensity is stronger for the 93-cent tax increase (60 percent strongly favor)
than for the 50-cent tax increase (54 percent strongly favor). Both proposed
increases receive strong support across party and ideological


The poll
found that a 93-cent cigarette tax increase is politically safe for legislators.
More than half (53 percent) of voters are more likely to support a candidate who
supports a cigarette tax increase, while just 14 percent are less likely.
Support remains high among base GOPers (50 percent more likely) as well as among
very conservative voters (51 percent more likely). Opposition among these groups
is low – just 12 percent of base GOPers are less likely, as are just 14 percent
of very conservative voters.


When asked
to choose, a significant majority of voters agree that revenue from a cigarette
tax increase should be used to reduce tobacco use, especially among children,
and to expand access to health care (62 percent), rather than to reduce other
state taxes (34 percent). Fully 83 percent of the electorate say they are
concerned about the problem of smoking and other tobacco use among young people
in South Carolina, with more than half (55 percent) of the electorate very
concerned about this issue.


Large bodies
of economic research, numerous expert panels, experience in other states, and
even reports from the tobacco industry have concluded decisively that price
increases effectively reduce smoking, especially among youth. The U.S. Surgeon
General, in the 2000 report, Reducing Tobacco Use, concluded that raising
cigarette taxes is widely regarded as one of the most effective tobacco
prevention strategies and that cigarette tax increases would lead to
“substantial long-run improvements in health.”


According to
the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a 93-cent increase in

South Carolina

’s cigarette tax would prevent more than

South Carolina

kids alive today from
becoming smokers and prompt 33,500 adult smokers to quit, saving 29,200

South Carolinians

from a premature,
smoking-caused death. The additional revenue from 93 cents per pack would
provide the state with an immediate boost of more than $175 million in revenue
in the first year alone.


evidence is clear that increasing the price of cigarettes is one of the most
effective ways to reduce smoking, especially among children and pregnant women,”
said Jim Bowie, Executive Director of the South Carolina Tobacco Collaborative.
“Preliminary evidence confirms that every state that has significantly increased
its cigarette tax in recent years has enjoyed substantial increases in revenue,
even while reducing cigarette sales.

South Carolina

has nothing to lose and
everything to gain from raising its cigarette tax.”


The South
Carolina Tobacco Collaborative is a coalition of health, education, community,
business and faith organizations dedicated to raising the state excise tax on
cigarettes and other tobacco products to protect our kids. The Collaborative’s
more than 30 member groups, including the American Cancer Society, American
Heart Association, American Lung Association of South Carolina, South Carolina


and American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, support the 93-cent increase
in the cigarette tax to help prevent kids from starting to smoke and to fund
healthcare programs.


The survey
was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies. The statewide poll has a random
sample of 500 registered likely


voters and was conducted December 9 and 11,
2008.  The poll has a margin of error of
+/- 4.38 percentage points.

So I guess I'm not the only one getting impatient on this.

Meanwhile, we had our lunch with the governor today. This subject came up, and basically he backs the idea of going a third of the way to the national average — if it's offset with a tax cut he wants. If it's NOT offset by the tax cut, he'll veto it again. But you probably knew that without my telling you.

Lunch was nice, by the way. Joel saw to it I had a nice grilled fish fillet with salad, and that the dressing didn't do me in. I appreciate it.

33 thoughts on “S.C. voters back increasing cigarette tax to national average — more than ever

  1. Lee Muller

    The mob can be herded, or hand-picked, to express any opinion.
    America is not supposed to have mob rule.
    It doesn’t matter if 99% of the mob wants to abuse the other 1%, because they have no right to impose taxes or regulations on the minority.
    Tax everyone the same. No special taxes on the minority. That is the American way.

  2. Bart

    Will there be an increase in the tax on alcohol? Will there be an increase in the tax on fatty foods? Will there be an increase in the tax on unprotected sex – AIDS?
    I don’t agree with smoking but if one vice is to be punished with excessive taxation, then tax the hell out of all vices. We can expect in the near future for a McDonald’s burger to have a high tax placed on it as well because it contributes to obesity and unhealthy eating habits. Where does it end?
    I also seriously doubt the actual financial gains touted by the experts. Once the goal is met of reducing smoking to single digit percentages, does anyone really expect the projected revenues to stay the same? We have the wonderful lottery and scratch off tickets that are nothing more than a heavy tax burden on those who can afford it the least but what the hell? Keep’em poor and ignorant.

  3. wall fly

    Should we overtax cigarettes because the editor is allergic to three-quarters of the substances that make up the universe?

  4. Bird

    SC needs a corruption tax. It could fund every dream of every citizen within its borders. Start at Nelson Mullins. Nab 51% of every dollar that darkens their doorway; they have their fingers in 51% of the pies.

  5. marconi

    Pretty lame comment.
    I’ll kick ol Brad from time to time, but not when he’s down with (Allergies), only when he wasn’t looking (supporting John McCain for president).
    Besides he’s right. Fewer kids will smoke, the state will have more money and everybody in the country except for the clucks with a 13th century mindset who post 1on this website is way solid on board with this tax increase.

  6. Julia

    It costs $7.60 to pay for the medical costs generated by smoking one pack of cigarettes. A $1.00 per pack tax would still have ‘the mob’ subsidizing your habit quite nicely.

  7. Lee Muller

    Pointing to some artificial burden on the taxpayers as an excuse to tax them more really is a lame argument.
    I don’t know you supplied your bogus figures on health costs, but the state has $300,000,000 in tobacco taxes and is only spending $2,500,000 on medical care for tobacco-related illnesses.
    The taxpayers have no obligation to pay for the treatment of anyone, smoker or obese, alcoholic or daredevil.
    In a free market, insurance companies could exclude coverage for smokers, just like they refuse to cover drunk drivers. That is incentive enough to stop smoking for most people.

  8. Brad Warthen

    Needed and wanted, yes. “Inevitable,” no. The governor indicated at lunch yesterday quite clearly that if the increase (a tiny increase, in his proposal) isn’t on HIS terms, he will veto it again.
    He really doesn’t give a damn that it will save lives, near as I can tell. Making his ideological point — and he’s all about making ideological points, since he knows he doesn’t have much chance of getting his agenda through the Legislature — is far more important to him than the kids who would be prevented from taking up the habit.
    There is probably no issue I can think of in South Carolina that illustrates better the utter moral emptiness of the radical libertarian argument: He would keep cigarettes cheap for kids rather than enact anything that anyone could characterize as a tax increase.
    The more you think about it, the more appalling it is.

  9. marconi

    Never thought of it like that. What are the chances of the legislature simply overriding his veto, though?

  10. marconi

    “There is probably no issue I can think of in South Carolina that illustrates better the utter moral emptiness of the radical libertarian argument: He would keep cigarettes cheap for kids rather than enact anything that anyone could characterize as a tax increase”.
    There’s the subject of your next column…

  11. Doug Ross

    Sanford vetoes the tax increase because the legislature spends the money in the wrong way. He supports a tax increase if the money is used in a fiscally responsible way.
    It’s just as appalling to turn a tax into another way to waste the public’s money.
    All the legislature has to do is find a way to spend the money in the right way and it will pass.
    Just because you don’t care about how the government spends money doesn’t mean everybody has to turn a blind eye.
    And a true libertarian would say that cigarettes should not be taxed at all. Because it is the responsibility of parents to keep kids from smoking, not the government. But I know… that’s just crazy talk.

  12. Julia

    On the whole $7.60 cost per pack of cigs thing – got it from Tobacco Free Kids website. We wouldn’t see all of it in the state’s healthcare budget, because the costs are more widespread:
    1. Work Productivity & on the job performance declines,
    2. Smoking related absences for self and children exposed to second-hand smoke,
    3. Smoking & second-hand smoke related disability costs,
    4. Residential & commercial property losses due to fires caused by cigarettes (about $400mil nationwide),
    5. Costs of extra cleaning and maintenance made necessary by tobacco smoke & tobacco related litter (about $4 billion for commercial establishments alone)

  13. Birch Barlow

    I fail to understand the outrage of the tax cigarettes, save lives people.
    Where’s the outrage over the absence of a junk food/fast food tax? Doesn’t this state also struggle with obesity and heart disease? Hell, our government doesn’t GIVE people cigarettes, but have you seen some of the food that is placed in front of these kids at a public school cafeteria? There are no cigarette vending machines at schools but there are plenty of soft drink and candy ones. What’s that doing to our children’s health?
    I couldn’t say for sure but I bet heart disease is a bigger killer than cigarettes or at least pretty equal. Yet there’s little to no outrage. And that’s what I don’t understand. What’s the difference between the two? Second hand smoke? I’ve never been somewhere where I was breathing in smoke but couldn’t get away from it if I chose to do so.
    And that’s my point. I have the choice to not smoke, to not stand near smokers, to not eat unhealthy food, to not drink too much alcohol, etc. That’s the libertarian argument. It’s my choice to live my life the way I want to, not someone else’s choice.
    If you want to be outraged at a vice you could at least pick one the government SUPPORTS like junk food (in our public schools) or gambling (the State Education Lottery: Where our poor will pay for your white middle class Christian kids to go to college!)
    But that said, I do favor an increase in the tax. Our state badly needs the revenue. I just don’t think the government should (on an inconsistent basis no less) be telling us what is and is not good for us.

  14. Doug Ross

    I know nobody cares about reality when it comes to discussing cigarettes because (like vouchers) it has to be “about the children”.
    But understand that there are economic consequences to every decision to tax. You may stop a few poor kids from smoking. But you will also cause the industries that develop, market, distribute, and sell cigarettes to be impacted as well. We may as well take all the tax money from cigarettes and put it into the unemployment pool. Just move the money from smokers to people who lose their jobs.
    Brad doesn’t care about the economic impact of any of his pet causes. If he can just save ONE KID from taking a puff, it’s worth whatever it costs somebody else.

  15. Doug Ross

    If the objective is truly to stop kids from smoking, that can be easily accomplished without a tax.
    a) Smoke underage? Lose your license for a year.
    b) Sell cigarettes to someone underage? Lose your right to sell cigarettes for a month.
    But it’s REALLY not about getting kids to quit smoking. It’s about the money. It always is.

  16. Brad Warthen

    Actually, Doug, it isn’t. I’ve made it absolutely clear that for us at The State, it most assuredly, absolutely is NOT about the Goddamned money. And you have no right to say that I’m lying when I say that.

    This is why we have advocated this completely outside and separate from our advocacy for comprehensive tax reform, because it is NOT about the revenues in any way, shape or form.

    We have even, to make the point clearer, said that the purpose would be achieved if we burned the money.

    The fact that this would produce substantial revenue — and that, if we chose to dedicate it to Medicaid, would bring in that much three times again — means that there is a SEPARATE important set of decisions to be made about the money thus produced. And there are some people who do NOT see this issue as being about stopping kids from smoking who WOULD be motivated by being able to better pay for health care in this state, and there’s nothing wrong with them advocating that if that’s what they want to do.

    But it is NOT what has motivated our editorial board on this issue. I have explained that clearly, and I do not lie. I have no reason to lie. I work my freaking tail off at this newspaper and on this blog doing everything I can to explain clearly what I’m saying and why I’m saying it, and you know what? I’m not going to let ANYBODY undo all that effort with a careless, unconscionable wave of the hand, sneering “Yeah, that’s what he SAYS, but he’s really thinking THIS.”

    Anyone who does that, to me or anyone else on this blog, gets summarily deleted from here on. I don’t care if I never get another comment on this blog again. I’m not going to stand for any more like that.

    Following up on this post — We are going to GET SOMEWHERE with these discussions. We are going to CONVERSE. We are going to LISTEN to each other, not DISMISS, and see if we can make some progress in mutual understanding, and maybe even come up with a few answers that transcend the partisan garbage of our times.

    We are going to do that, or we are going to do nothing. Because I don’t have time in my life to spend on a blog that does less.

  17. Doug Ross

    I never said you were lying. I said you do not ever look at the economic impact of your solutions. A tax has a real impact. Jobs will be lost. There will be downstream impact all over the place.
    Why can’t you look at options that DON’T involve taxes? All your plan does is make cigarettes more expensive. It doesn’t really impact demand for those who have the money to buy them.
    Follow the money — if you increase the cigarette tax and use it to fund an ongoing program, then where are you going to get the funds when the tax revenue drops? These are basic principles that you need to account for. Taxes raised from a shrinking market should only be spent after they have been collected, not to fund ongoing programs.
    It’s the same thing as with your opinion on single payer healthcare. You want it but you won’t spend the time to truly think through the impact on the national economy that implementing it would have. It’s an idea, not a plan.

  18. wall fly

    Why not just outlaw tobacco?
    That wouldn’t involve any revenue.
    And it would be all about everybody, not just all about the children.
    But it wouldn’t buy health insurance for everybody and a sucker for every nitwit nincompoop.

  19. Lee Muller

    We KNOW tobacco taxes are not about discouraging smoking, because the state doesn’t spend even 1% of the current tobacco taxes on discouraging smoking or treating illnesses.
    The state doesn’t need any more money, either.
    It has $100,000,000 surplus over last year.

  20. Lee Muller

    So Julia’s $7.60 figure is an “estimate” by anti-tobacco moralists. Worthless, bogus, fake statistics. Let’s stick to real numbers.
    Besides, it is none of my business, or yours, if some misses work that isn’t working for me or with me.
    You don’t owe anyone but your family a dime of medical care, so their alleged illnesses are none of your business.

  21. Brad Warthen

    Good response, Doug, and sorry to unload on you — but I did see that as a “liar-liar” moment, and I’m losing my patience with that stuff these days…
    But you’re wrong that I haven’t considered the money. If I hadn’t considered the money, I would say that we SHOULD burn it, since it isn’t the point. But if the state has several million dollars it took from its citizens in taxes, even if the money wasn’t the original point, it would be pretty irresponsible to burn it, would it not?
    So yeah, you need to spend it responsibly — but since I HAVE thought about that, I can answer your question. The best ways that are mentioned for spending the money — such as making health care more accessible to the poor — is money that’s GOING to get spent in our economy one way or another, efficiently or inefficiently. We don’t just not treat the poor in our society — we just have a cost and payment structure that causes us to spend in the most wasteful and least helpful ways possible, such as hospitals having to pass on to you and me and the insurance companies the absorbed costs of treating people who show up at the emergency room needing care that is WAY more expensive than they would have gotten had they gone to their doctors earlier the way people with private insurance do.
    Now think for a moment about this argument that if we succeed in cutting back on tobacco purchases in society, we’re suddenly not going to have the money for some program that we’ve funded with it. Think about it. Suppose the money DID dry up? Are we worse off than we are now without that program? And are we not better off for the fact that fewer people are smoking — not just in terms of our health, but in terms of cost. In the long term, nonsmokers are less likely to have the kinds of catastrophically expensive diseases associated with tobacco use.

  22. Lee Muller

    What have “the poor” done to deserve free medical care? Nothing.
    Nobody OWES them anything.
    If someone wants to GIVE them medical care as personal charity, fine.
    But those who claim to represent the poor, and claim moral authority to force the rest of us to pay them to be middlemen for the welfare payments, are just using the poor as an excuse for their power lust.

  23. KP

    1. Wow. I just saw this post and I’ve never heard Brad so angry. You go.
    2. Dead on about Sanford’s ideology. It’s like his views on seat belt enforcement. If it’s not done in the ideologically pure way, he’ll walk, and who cares what good it might have done?
    3. The cigarette tax should be increased — in a big way, to the national average or beyond. If the money’s not sustainable, at least we’ll have it for the short term. If the cigarette companies go out of business, I don’t care. And I smoke.
    4. Lee: Dear God.

  24. Lee Muller

    Come on, KP, try to come up with a justification for robbing people in the name of “the poor”. No one else has been able to do it. They don’t even try. They just blow 99% of the tobacco taxes on pork projects, then come by whining for more taxes and tell us how, “it’s for the children”. Liars.
    Libertarians and conservatives are about ending poverty by creating an environment of opportunity which rewards hard work.
    Liberals and socialists are about maintaining people in poverty so they will be dependent on liberal and socialist “leaders”. That’s not compassion.

  25. Gerry

    Hi, I am very angry, and as a smoker, I would like to chime in. I am currently expected to pay $7.50 per pack of smokes, over $6.00 of which is taxes.
    You all have your reasons why it is perfectly acceptable to have me pay that tax, but you are not paying it – ARE YOU?
    Which of you would vote for a tax of 10 dollars per day – every day for yourself? A tax that you would have to pay, but many others would not? Honestly, do tell me which of you would voluntarily do so? And how would those high percentages of support change if instead of voting a tax increase on others, they were voting those increases for themselves.
    It is not right that the masses should decide to burden a minority of poor addicted fools, who are too ashamed to stand up for themselves, in order to fund anything!!! Especially when the majority conveniently excludes themselves from the burden.
    It is not right and is absolutely UN-AMERICAN to allow a majority to institute an undue financial burden on any minority group of law abiding citizens, for any reason.
    If you really care about eradicating smoking, once and for all, then make it illegal, burn the tobacco fields, and outlaw tobacco altogether. That would end smoking for good!!
    It is perfectly unethical, unjust, and immoral that a group of people who happen to be a majority, should be able to institute a tax upon an entirely separate group of people, who are a minority – all the while making sure that those who support it are entirely excluded from the burden.
    Make all the excuses you want to justify it, but given 2 groups of people, call them A and B, it is never OK for group A to pass a law that affects only group B, all the while excluding group A from the affects.
    And by the way, spare me the nonsense about how much it costs the state for each pack of smokes, and how this tax only recovers the just due burden that the state is forced to bear. Non-smokers outlive smokers far and away, and the twenty odd extra years of old age care, nursing homes, diabetic care, and other expenses of the aged 60 to 90 crowd, far exceeds the expense of the smokers, who on average die at age 60, and basically leave the state off the hook on medical expenses, social security, and etc.
    Simply and clearly, there is but one way for the state to appropriately use its power to address this problem – Prohibit it by law. If the state has neither the desire nor the will to do what they ought to do, then they should have no mandate to do anything less.
    And no-one ever should have the right to vote in a tax for their neighbor that they are unwilling to bear themselves.
    For now, I shall continue to get my smokes from the indians – I WILL NEVER PAY THE STATE ONE THIN DIME FOR THIS UNJUST TAX….

  26. DonEros

    I sent an email to all the major “News” reporting channels; local or cable fed after hearing the rumor that tax on cigarettes would be going up as of April 1, 2009.
    We have serious obstacles in hopefully, with the blessings of God, to get Washington under the control of someone who knows what they are doing.
    He’s above his abilities, and without that belief – in GOD and Country then he can/could not do things he has proposed to do.
    I believe there is ONE GOD and He lets me know – on a daily basis – that the world is still his.
    If SC chooses to tax cigarettes higher than the rate in the past then I am fully convinced that every vice should have it’s tax rate adjusted in like proportion to it’s proven risk or probable risk to the lives of SC citizens who do not have those vices.
    Tax increase on liquor, tax increase on – other than, smoking tobaccos; Skoll, dips, snuff, beer, wine, etc.
    But what the citizens and the government should be asking is, “When was the last time someone was arrested for driving under the influence of nicotine?”
    If the ZERO Tolerance Policy is to be stood behind and enforced as it should then the tax has to start with the problem. Not an arbitrary item to satisfy special interest – and find out how many of that group drink, drive and drink, have had public intoxication violations and / or Domestic Violence charges related to alcohol.
    Please let us know when you find a charge like CDV that was attributed to cigarettes.
    Generally there are 8 people who over imbibe for every 1 smoker still amongst us.
    Don W.
    Governor Sanford, I admire you, by the way.

  27. Bill

    I am a long time adversary to you on this topic Mr. Warthen. Mostly for many of the reasons already covered.
    Another good reason, though (especially if it is *not* all about the money) is one I was talking to my youngest adult son about just a couple of days ago:
    The rate of smokers in the US has fallen dramatically over the last fifty years. This is indisputable. in 1965 – 41.9 %, as of 2007 – 20.8 % (source: http://www.cdc.gov/fastats/smoking.htm)
    With that said, it would behoove people to ask why then the cancer rates have gone UP (3.6% increase in lung cancer over 35 years – SEER.cancer.gov)? Could it be, *gasp* that cancer comes from other sources? Could it even be that there is another substance, one that everyone is turning a blind eye to, is even worse for people than cigarettes/tobacco?Food for thought, but food that is not, unfortunately, politically correct. Perhaps even more puzzling might be the huge decrease in oral cavity cancer – a 6% decrease overall, approximately. So, apparently, something attacks lungs but not the mouth/throat. Hmmm.
    We’ll never agree, and eventually your side will get it’s way, unfortunately. But I’ll keep fighting against it till it’s over, unless fairness creeps in, and that’ll never happen.

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